After a brief hiatus for ennui, and a two-post departure into Smith family lore, I’m back to the story of the Blackwells down under, still tracking the founder of the Oz Blackwells, Richard Henry. To make up for my long absence, I'm blessing you with a particularly long post this time. Oh, you lucky people! (Person?)
I finished last time with R.H. arriving in Melbourne, and speculated about why he might have left the old sod. One thing is certain: he didn’t come for the gold. The bonanza that began in 1851 and brought the first big influx of immigrants to the Melbourne area had played out by the time Richard decided to emigrate. His path in life was, as we'll see, a little more prosaic.
Less than five years after stepping off the Siam, in March 1883, he appears in The Argus (Melbourne), dissolving a partnership with one Herbert Wallace in a wool and tallow brokering business. Not quite as romantic as gold prospecting. Richard would carry on the business, the legal notice said, “on his own account,” at the same premises, 7 Market Buildings, William St., Melbourne, “under the style of R. H. Blackwell.”10
A tallow broker? Tallow is rendered beef or mutton fat, processed from suet. It was used to make soap and moulded candles before superior wax candles became readily available.
Commodity brokers in the 19th century, not so different from today’s traders, bought and sold on behalf of clients – soap or candle makers on the one side in the case of tallow. It was an arbitrage business. They entered into an agreement to source a certain quantity of the commodity and deliver it to the client at an agreed price, betting they could buy for less before the contracted delivery date. Or they bought from a supplier at a price below what they calculated they could sell it on for later.
|Modern sheep tallow soap - whoopee, get clean with mutton fat!|
|Modern tallow candles - yes, they were smelly|
The next year, 1884, finds R.H. in Launceston, Tasmania (or Van Deimen’s Land as it was then known), a port city 50 kilometers down the Tamar River from the north coast, directly across the Bass Strait from Melbourne. He may have had wool and tallow brokering business to attend to in Launceston that January, but if so, it was not his only business. He also contracted a marriage.
|Detail of 1850s Australia map showing Van Diemen Land and southern Victoria|
The bride was Catherine Sadler, spinster, 29, a local girl. Was it planned for some time, or the result of a whilrlwind romance while Richard was visiting on business? By the standards of the day, Catherine was a little long in the tooth, but as it turned out, and luckily for us, she was still quite fertile. Richard himself was by now 46, so not exactly a prime catch either.
The wedding took place on January 3011 at St. John’s Church, Launceston12. Witnessing the nuptials that mid-summers day were R. J. and Alice Sadler. They were not Catherine’s parents, they were her elder brother, Robert James, and younger sister. Where were the parents, James and Elizabeth (nee Webb)? They may have been deceased, although at least one death record extant for a James Sadler in Tasmania shows him living on until 1892. Other James Sadlers died in 1876 and 1878.
|St. John's, Launceston, ca 1902|
Tracing James and Elizabeth with certainty is difficult – and what follows may be a tad dry for those not thrilled with the minutiae of historical research using primary sources.
Their surnames and Christian names are very common at this period. There were at least two other James Sadlers living in Tasmania during the same years, one a convict, transported in 1832 and pardoned in 1844. There was a second Elizabeth Webb too, also a convict. And to complicate matters further, one of the other James Sadlers may have been married to an Elizabeth, a different one.
Given the island’s very small population – an estimated 70,000 in 1847 – it’s a stroke of extremely bad luck for the genealogist.
Our James and Elizabeth – the ones who, after much poring over handwritten census documents and ships’ passenger manifests, I’ve concluded were indeed our ancestors – appear to have had at least eight children. Sarah Elizabeth was born in 1843, Robert James in 1846, Samuel Charles in 1849, Catherine Louisa in 1852, just plain Catherine – Richard’s bride – in 1854, and Alice in 1856. Elizabeth had two other girl babies in 1857 and 1860. It seems likely that they, unnamed in the record, and also Catherine Louisa – whose name was reused so soon – did not survive infancy. This all comes from official birth records.
In the Van Deimen’s Land census of 1843, a James Sadler appears, living on Elizabeth St. in Launceston, renting from William Fletcher, the “proprietor.” James is the “householder” and “head” of the house. It’s not clear if Fletcher was also in residence or somebody else, but the household, according to the return, consisted of three people: one married female under 21, one married male between 21 and 45 and one single male between 21 and 45.
James, we can assume, was the married man. If he’s our James Sadler, the woman is Elizabeth. All three residents ticked off “arrived free” under “civil condition,” meaning they were settlers, not transportees. The men give their occupations as “mechanics and artificers,” apparently a broad category that took in all kinds of skilled tradesman.
In the 1848 census, we find James Sadler now living on George St., renting from James Davis. James and Elizabeth Sadler, if it’s the same family, appear to have come up in the world: this house is brick, the old one on Elizabeth St., wood.
The household is now reported to include one married man and one married woman between 21 and 45, and a son and daughter, both between two and six. This is consistent with the known children of “our” James Sadler. The daughter would be Sarah Elizabeth, then five or six, the son, Robert James, just turned two. James’s occupation is once again listed as mechanic and artificer.
Too Many Sadlers
But there are other complications in the record. A James Sadler and wife Elizabeth are also listed as parents of Charlotte Sadler, born 1834. Could this be the same James and Elizabeth? It seems unlikely. The census records say Elizabeth was under 21 in 1843. That would make her under 12 in 1834, which even in those times was a little young to be bearing children.
And if Charlotte’s parents are also Catherine’s parents, then what were husband and wife doing between 1834 and 1843, when the rest of their children started popping out, one every couple of years? Did Elizabeth have a nine-year headache? Very confusing, but I think we can assume Charlotte was no sister to our ancestor.
In only one place is Charlotte explicitly included in the same family as Catherine, Robert James, Alice, etc., and that is the Colonial Tasmanian Family Links database. Information about birth dates and parentage in the database is culled from records in the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office – the same records cited here. The linkages among them, according to the Tasmanian Government website, were “developed by family historians associated with the former National Heritage Foundation in the late 1990s.” I think those historians simply made a mistake in this case and Charlotte was the issue of different parents.
To muddy the waters still further, a third (fourth? fifth?) Tasmanian James Sadler appears in the record in 1863 as father of Louisa Sadler. His wife’s name: Margaret Webb. It could be just a coincidence. But given the dates, there is another plausible explanation. Our James wore out poor Elizabeth with constant child bearing – at least eight pregnancies in 17 years, the last when she was 46. Perhaps baby and mother both perished in that 1860 confinement, and James, after a few years, married a younger relative.
If Catherine’s parents are the couple in the 1840s censuses, where did they come from, and when? According to the census records, they “arrived free.” Did they come separately at different times and marry there? If so, there is no record of that marriage in Tasmania. But in passenger lists of ships bringing immigrants, we do find a James Sadler and wife, arriving from England on November 4, 1842 on the Orleana. The timing is right.
|Detail of 1842 immigration record showing arrival in Tasmania of James Sadler "& wife"|
The Orleana, a 649-ton three-master built in 1835, probably docked that day at Hobart, the colonial capital. On earlier voyages she is only shown docking at Port Adelaide in South Australia, but the records in which the Sadlers’ arrival is noted are part of the collection Tasmania, Australia, Immigrant Lists, 1841-1884, so it’s safe to assume they landed there.
The citation source for these records is Returns of Immigrants under the Bounty and General System. A number of factors in this period made life at home in England extremely difficult, especially for working people. There was the demilitarization of British society in the aftermath of the American Revolution and Napoleonic wars, the Corn Law that drove up food prices and the Enclosure Acts that impacted agricultural workers in particular.
It was a brew that produced high unemployment and in many cases destitution. To help ease the pressure, the government encouraged citizens to emigrate, to Australia among other places. Persuading them to risk the arduous voyage to Tasmania was not easy. To sweeten the pot, the government offered desirable individuals – of the right age and with needed skills – a bounty equivalent to the cost of their passage. They were paid after they arrived and had been approved by a local immigration agent.
Did James and Elizabeth arrive under such a bounty scheme? Did they receive their bounty? It’s not clear from the record.
James is listed as a “chairmaker and carver” – consistent with his classification as an artificer in the 1840s censuses, and enough, one would think, to make him eligible for a bounty. However, the record shows only that he “left the place of landing with his wife on his own account.” The implication is that he did not have a job lined up before he left home, or if he did it was an entirely private arrangement. For other passengers, in the same column of the ledger, an employer name and wage – presumably prearranged – is recorded.
According to the Orleana passenger list, James and Elizabeth – we’ll assume it was she – hailed from London. On May 2, 1841, in the parish church of Shoreditch St. Leonard in the London Borough of Hackney, we find a James Sadler, bachelor “of full age” – listed as a “carver,” son of Robert Sadler, also a carver – marrying Elizabeth Webb, “spinster,” a “minor” and daughter of Samuel Webb of Church St., a cooper (barrel maker) by trade. It must be them.
The church in question had been immortalized in a nursery rhyme: “Gay go up and gay go down/To Ring the Bells of London Town…/’When I grow Rich’ say the Bells of Shoreditch.” Not that the working poor of Hackney grew rich in this period. Hackney in 1841 was a decidedly suburban community. A potted history at the website of today’s Hackney borough council notes, interestingly, that “the furniture trade moved into Shoreditch in the early 19th century. The west bank of the River Lea was then lined with timber yards providing wood for this burgeoning industry.”
So. Long story short, we think we know where R.H.’s bride originated. Probably.